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Health Highlights: Nov. 27, 2018

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

CDC Confirms 116 Cases of Polio-Like Condition

There have been 116 confirmed cases of a polio-like condition called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) in the United States so far this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The cases have occurred in 31 states and most have involved children, NBC News reported Monday.

In its latest update, the CDC says it is investigating 286 cases of AFM, and still does not have a confirmed cause for the disease, which causes muscle weakness or paralysis due to spinal cord damage.

High on the list of suspects are enteroviruses, which typically cause nothing worse than the common cold, NBC News reported.

"Respiratory illnesses and fever from viral infections such as enteroviruses are common, especially in children, and most people recover. We don't know why a small number of patients develop AFM, while most others recover," the CDC said.

The agency noted that AFM cases in the United States rise and fall year to year, with 120 confirmed cases in 2014, 22 cases in 2015, 149 cases in 2016 and 33 cases in 2017, NBC News reported.


Claim About World's First Gene-Edited Babies Triggers Questions, Condemnation

A unproven claim about the creation of the world's first genetically edited babies has been met with skepticism and condemnation.

He Jiankui, Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, resulting in a pregnancy that led to twin girls born this month, the Associated Press reported.

The objective was to give the babies the ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to He, who did not reveal the identity of the parents, where they live, or where the research was conducted.

The claim has not been independently confirmed and has not been published in a journal, where it would be reviewed by other experts. He revealed it Monday to one of the organizers of an international conference on gene editing scheduled to begin in Hong Kong Tuesday, and in earlier interviews with the AP.

He has two genetics companies and has applied for patents on his embryo gene editing methods.

This type of gene editing is not allowed in the United States because the DNA changes can affect future generations and there is risk of damage to other genes. A number of scientists condemned He's research, and some labeled it human experimentation.

It's "unconscionable ... an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible," Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene editing expert and editor of a genetics journal, told the AP.

"This is far too premature," said Dr. Eric Topol, heads of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California. "We're dealing with the operating instructions of a human being. It's a big deal."

But attempting gene editing to protect against HIV is "justifiable," because it's "a major and growing public health threat," Harvard University geneticist George Church, told the AP.

Several scientists who reviewed materials that He provided to the AP said there is not enough data to determine if the gene editing was effective or safe.

They also said it appears that the gene editing was incomplete and that at least one twin seems to have a patchwork of cells with various genetic changes.

"It's almost like not editing at all" if only some of particular cells were changed, because HIV infection can still occur, Church said.

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